North Dakota Living


When life gives you a beautiful September Sunday and the trees are exploding in color, there’s really only one thing to do in our neck of the woods: Go walking. Go driving. Go horseback riding or biking or cartwheeling — Just get out there! Yesterday, Hubby, Scout, and I went down to the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, camera in tow, just to drive around and soak it in.

I wish the colors could stay. I wish something could hold them here a little longer before we slip into the long cold of winter here on the Northern Plains.

Maybe then, we wouldn’t appreciate it quite so much though.

Robert Frost put it best. If you ever happen to suddenly find yourself teaching middle school English, you will more than likely run into this little poem in the classic teen novel The Outsiders:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

If only it could!

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How To's

How To: Cowboy Caviar & Tater Tot Hot Dish

It is officially the beginning of fall, that time of year where I shiver all the way to school in the mornings and blast the AC on the way home (so confusing). I love fall, though, and I know I’m not alone. There is something so refreshing about the crisp air, frosty mornings, and colorful leaves.

Fall brings another reason to celebrate: FOOD! (“Wait, Rachel,” you may ask. “Isn’t every day a reason to celebrate food?” Why yes! But just let me pretend that I have a legitimate reason to celebrate food on this particular day.)

In particular, fall is football season and comfort food season. Friends and family gather to watch football games on Sundays from now until later in the winter, and having an easy appetizer or two to throw together is a must. The crisper air also means those creamy comfort foods just taste that much better. Plus I’m sure our bodies are just helping us to prepare for the harsh North Dakota winters by really making us crave things like mac & cheese, creamy soups, hearty meat sandwiches, and the like (that’s my excuse, anyway. Survival, man).

To start, I’m going to share a recipe for Cowboy Caviar. It is actually my husband’s recipe. He has adapted it over time and isn’t even sure where he first got it. It’s a perfect appetizer for football season, as it makes quite a nice amount — perfect for sharing — and is also a little healthier than the usual Velveeta-based chip dip as it is chock full of veggies, beans, and delicious spices.

The second recipe I’m sharing today is a favorite classic around these parts: Tater Tot Hot Dish. (Yes, it is a “hot dish” and not a “casserole” because we are in North Dakota, darn it.) This is comfort food at its finest, and is a perfect recipe for a fall Sunday after church. It takes no more than a couple minutes to throw together and then bakes for a little under an hour, which gives you time to change out of your church clothes, do some Sunday chores, and prepare any desired side dishes. I found it years ago in my cookbook North Dakota: Where Food Is Love. I’ve adjusted it slightly, but the credit here goes to Marion Meether who contributed the recipe. Thanks, Marion! It really is a recipe of love.



Cowboy Caviar 
1 can black-eyed peas, drained
1 can black beans, drained (my husband uses a can of black beans in chili sauce)
1 can corn with red & green peppers, drained
3-4 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 avocados, diced
4 green onions, diced
Cilantro (hubby really can’t tell you how much. “Just put some in.”)
Juice of 1 lime, 2 for extra flavor (in a pinch, hubby uses lime juice from a bottle)
Chipotle spice to taste
Chili pepper/powder to taste

Mix all together in a serving bowl and serve with Wheat Thins or black bean tortilla chips (my personal favorite). You will not regret making Cowboy Caviar!!



Tater Tot Hot Dish
1 lb ground beef
1 pkg. dried onion soup mix
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cans green beans
1 pkg. frozen Tater Tots

-Spread raw ground beef on the bottom of a casserole dish. I use a 9×13 metal baking dish. Just be sure whatever dish you use has a flat surface to ensure even cooking.
-Season the ground beef with onion soup mix – no other salt is needed. You can also sprinkle some water over the ground beef (about 1/4 cup) for a juicier casserole or if your hamburger is extra lean.
-Cover the hamburger with the cream of chicken soup. Spread evenly.
-Next, layer on both cans of green beans.
-Finally, top with Tater Tots – yep, the entire package.
-Bake uncovered at 350 degrees on the center rack in your oven for a little under an hour — about 50-55 minutes.

Optional add-ons: You can dice onions and add to the hamburger, add an extra can of green beans, top with cheese for the last 10 minutes, and/or serve with ketchup or sour cream. It goes great with mixed fruit and crescent rolls on the side!


Enjoy the fall weather and of course, some delicious fall eating!


Musings, North Dakota Living

A Friendship Worth Celebrating

Things have more or less settled into a routine around here. Ok, less. Things never seem to get into a routine. This last week, I took a personal day on Friday to attend my cousin’s wedding in the twin cities. However, on Wednesday I fell deathly ill at school, went home, and ended up taking off both Wednesday and Thursday as well. Three days off, one doctor’s appointment, one wedding, and 1272 miles later, I wound up at school at 7:30 this morning staring at piles of various papers on my desk, not even sure where to start. Did I mention parent-teacher conferences start tomorrow?

Oh, well. Who needs a routine, anyway? Or sleep, for that matter?

It was all worth it because the wedding I attended was my cousin Beky’s, one of my best friends and definitely my longest friend. It was special to watch her say her vows to the man of her dreams in her family’s backyard. The day was gorgeous and so was the wedding itself. Amid the flowers, pretty dresses, smiles, and toasts, I watched my cousin throughout the day. She looked both happier and more emotional than I have ever seen her. I was happy for her happiness, and I understood the emotions, too — girls like me and Beky are pretty attached to our big, close families, especially our dads, and marriage doesn’t come without a little bit of bittersweet. I mean, have you ever seen the movie The Father of the Bride? That movie made me cry like a baby back when I was about 13, and I vowed never to get married and leave my dad like that.

At the reception, I gave a little speech about our friendship, which I’ve decided to write down here in honor of Beky and her big day.

For Beky: A Friendship Worth Celebrating

My cousin Beky and I grew up in a sea of boys. I had five brothers; she had four; and when we added in the boy cousins it seemed there were too many boys to count. The problem with being an island of two girls in a sea of boys was that we did not have a clue how to be girls. We would rather play whiffleball, wear our brothers’ t-shirts, and ride bike to our grandpa’s farm to play in the old machinery than touch glitter or fingernail polish. We didn’t cause quite as much ruckus as our brothers, so we were pretty much left alone by our families, except for the never-ending jobs we felt like we were always doing. We were often in charge of babysitting, driving our little brothers to baseball, cleaning bathrooms, and of course, picking rocks and hoeing weeds. All of this is best summed up in the fact that our favorite make-believe game was not playing princesses like other girls our age, but orphans forced to work. (True story.)

We grew into teenagers, spending a lot of time together in both North Dakota and Minnesota, where Beky is from. We get a lot of grief from our relatives, especially Uncle Tim, about how we liked to “chase boys” when we were of that age. What our relatives seem not to understand, however, is that we were terrible at it. My signature move when it came to talking to boys, was well, just not speaking at all. Beky might have been better at carrying on a conversation with the opposite gender, but I once saw her knock over a boy that she liked — who happened to be pretty scrawny — and carry him across the park (another true story). We often drove around in my family’s rickety brown-and-tan suburban, which didn’t help matters much. We were probably also wearing our brothers’ shirts. Remember when I said we didn’t know how to be girls? Well, case in point.


As we grew into young women, our dating skills improved slightly. But as my dad would say, it was hard to find someone who could meet our standards when we were trying to find men that could match up to our dads. We waded through the muck of the dating world together, watching other girls find their soulmate at age 21 or 22. We didn’t let us get this down, however. We made our own adventures together instead. As teenagers, we went to camps, our Aunt Barb’s house to help with her Vacation Bible School, horse clinics, and France the first time. We also had numerous bad hair experiments and a lot of different road trips. In our 20s, we attended NDSU together where we made “family dinners” on Thursdays and went to spinning classes at the wellness center. We also went to France a second time, took a cruise in the Caribbean, went on trail rides, and most recently visited Ireland and Scotland. Beky is one of my favorite travel companions.



There was one boy that was with us through all of it — our cousin, JT Rice, who passed away in 2011. He and I loved to tease Beky. We would rate her behavior for the month and put her in various behavior categories, which ranged anywhere from gold (only JT and I were in the gold level) down to tinfoil and poop brown. I know that if he were here today, he would be so proud of the woman she has become. And I know he would approve of her new husband for taking such good care of her and carrying on the torch by being willing to tease her now and then. Maybe her behavior rating would even go up now that she is married. Probably not, though.

We continued to struggle through the world of dating throughout our 20s. No, it was not easy — it really CAN be a battlefield — but in 2013, both of our luck changed. Beky was almost 27 and I was 28 when we both began dating the men who would become our husbands. We were engaged within two months of each other and married within a year of each other.

I was the brave one who went first into wifey-hood, and Beky, I can say honestly that I think both the battle and the wait were worth it. Maybe some of us just need to go through some struggles to really appreciate what we have now. God was looking out for both of us all that time. The most amazing thing about this is, even though we still don’t know how to be girls, we managed to find two wonderful men who, only God knows why, want to spend the rest of their lives with us.

Here’s to our friendship worth celebrating 🙂


North Dakota Living, Teaching

Famous in a Small Town

I’ve written a bit about how happy I am to be back on the farm. There’s another thing I’m happy about, too: Teaching high school in a “small” town again. (Not that Watford is really that small anymore, at least compared to how it once was.)

There’s something about belonging to a high school in a smaller town that really lends itself to a close-knit community feel. I missed this the last two years while I was off adventuring in Asia and in Bismarck. When you teach in a small town, you get to know the kids. You know their families. You know all of the other staff members on a personal basis, the good and the bad.

You even, as a teacher, have a certain amount of fame when you teach in a small town. Perhaps the better word is, you are watched. I am sure I could count on one hand the number of times I have been to the local grocery store without running into a student. Often, when I run into students out in public, they say hello. Sometimes they are so weirded out to see me in public that they act all embarrassed, don’t say a word, and then the next day proclaim in class, “I saw you at the grocery store yesterday!” (Students often feel braver in groups, in case you didn’t know.)

Sometimes, I think it it hard for them to believe that we sometimes exist outside the school walls. Students will say things like, “I saw you at the mall last night and it was WEIRD.” Or, “I saw you running. You can run?” Or, “Why did I see you at the restaurant with Mrs. S.? Are you guys friends? That’s weird.” You see the trend here.

Or, they might be very interested with whatever it is that we do outside of those school walls when we are actually acting human — things like what we do in our free time or even what we eat for dinner. One evening, I went shopping at the local Supervalu and purchased some items, along with the necessary ingredients for tacos. The next day in class, a freshman student asked, “How were your tacos last night?”

A bit surprised, I replied, “They were good! I don’t remember seeing you at the grocery store… How did you know I had tacos?”

“Oh,” he said. “My mom saw you, and she told me that she saw you at the grocery store, and that you were buying taco stuff. So then I knew you were eating tacos.”

See what I mean? They’re always. watching. you.

Actually though, I love it. I love belonging to a smaller community. I like that my students work at the grocery store, the gas station, the only Subway in town, and the hardware store. I like that they ask me to come to games and notice when I do and when I don’t. I like those North Dakota Class B sports events where the entire town shows up to cheer on their boys or their girls. I like that by the time every student graduates here, they will have had me in English class at least once or twice.

There’s a lot of things to like, teaching where I do. One more thing I like, is that I’m teaching with my brother Tommy this year. He joined the staff at the same time that I decided to make my way back.

Here we are, being famous in the local newspaper:


I kid. We’re not really famous… yet. But really, it’s great being back in this small town.

Musings, North Dakota Living

Not That Good at Juggling

Another harvest has officially come and gone. When harvest is over, summer is over, and we might as well face the facts that fall is pretty much here.

It always starts great – spirits are high, the farmers are excited, and everyone is full of energy and ready to go.


Then, as the harvest season progresses, energy wanes a bit. It’s imperceptible at first, but it becomes just a little bit harder to stay out combining until dark. Backs start aching and sleep is in short supply. A few weeks before harvest is over, we also begin to lose workers one by one as they pack up and go back to school. It’s always a little sad to see everyone go, but there’s a practical problem too: When school starts, we lose over half of our workers. The students and teachers going back to school — including two of my younger brothers, two young seasonal farmhands, my mom, and myself — also double as combine operators, grain cart drivers, meal wagons, and truck drivers. They leave with the skills and the manpower and the smiles that just make everything go more smoothly around here.


School started this year for us local teachers on August 17. At that point we were only about half done with harvest. Since then, I have found myself juggling very different roles. Each morning, I’ve tried to make myself presentable and drag myself to school in my heels, clutching my book bag and a jug of iced coffee and scrambling to throw together meaningful lessons for 150-some students in four different English classes. Each evening, I’ve come home and changed into grungy field clothes and work boots and attempted to throw together a passable meal to bring to the field. On a few occasions I’ve taken over for my grandpa after dinner and combined for the rest of the evening. After shutting down for the night, I’ve gone home to rinse off, crash into bed, and do it all over the next day — never mind frivolities such as working out, doing laundry or dishes, or spending time with my husband.

I do love harvest. But I admit that since August 17, I’ve been a little bit anxious for the juggle to be over. Do you know how hard it is to switch from comfy work clothes and ponytails and no makeup, to trying to look like a professional every day? Believe me, it is hard. (For me anyway.) Furthermore, the only things I can think of from my own experience that match the intensity of harvest is 1) planning a wedding in four months and 2) school starting, along with getting classrooms and lessons ready, getting back into a bell schedule, and meeting all those new faces.

As of this last week, however, harvest is finally over after six long weeks, and we can all breathe a little easier now.


There is a lot to be thankful for here, don’t get me wrong. My family is always thankful to get another harvest into the books. I’m lucky to have a good teaching job. And I’m always grateful for the time spent together and the fact that we’re lucky enough to be a farm family.

But let’s be honest, I’ve never been that good at juggling.

I think I’m ready for fall now.